The dust has hardly settled on Ireland’s historic voyage at the Women’s Rugby World Cup and scrum-half Larissa Muldoon is contemplating going back to the gym. She admits that it’s an “addiction” but life has been strange since the team’s homecoming. She has returned to Cardiff where she’s a primary school teacher. Embracing normality once more takes getting used to.
By Ian Cooney
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Like her team-mates that made the headlines in Paris, rugby is her life. Nothing else has mattered over the last month. Ireland’s exploits, especially in throwing the competition wide open by defeating New Zealand, prised open a special place for this team in the hearts and minds of the nation.
“Three or four years ago, people didn’t know that there was a women’s rugby team in Ireland. Now we’ve won the Grand Slam and reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. We’ve put women’s sport on the map and we’re really proud of that,” she explained.
Larissa’s father Vincent hails from Emlaghroyan, Donamon in Mid Roscommon. When Halloween rolls around, Larissa hopes to spend a few days back in Ireland, taking in a trip to Roscommon along the way. When she’s out and about, everyone will know what she’s talking about when the conversation turns to the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Larissa’s family home in Cappry, Ballybofey, County Donegal has been a nursery for sport. She won All-Ireland medals with the Donegal U-14 and U-16 girls’ Gaelic football teams, plying her trade as a full-forward.
Her attention soon turned to rugby, and she has spent the last four years answering her country’s call. In 2013, women’s rugby was catapulted on to a new pedestal when a 6-3 victory against Italy in Milan confirmed Ireland was Grand Slam champions.
This season’s campaign didn’t yield the same success but Ireland were very competitive, especially against their arch rivals England and France. Some of the games were shown live on RTE television and Larissa scored a try during Ireland’s narrow loss against England at Twickenham.
“We trained very hard but sport can go either way. We should have been closer to England and France in the Six Nations but we were very competitive, and that was important ahead of the World Cup,” she recalled.
When Ireland’s World Cup squad was unveiled, Larissa was handed her dream ticket but she faced competition in the form of Tania Rosser who came out of retirement after a four-year absence from the game. But instead of sulking about Rosser’s surprise inclusion, Larissa embraced it.
“It was great for me personally to learn from someone so experienced. It’s always good to have competition and she was a big addition to the squad,” she insisted.
Once Ireland arrived in France, they were confident of doing well and it was clear from the team’s daily schedule that preparation had been perched on a whole new plateau.
“It was tough abiding by schedules but you had to do it. The amount of work was unreal. You’d start off in the morning with weigh-ins, tests on your knees etc., mobility tests, breakfast and video analysis. It just went on and on. But we were prepared for what was in front of us. It wasn’t a shock when we got there,” she pointed out.
But while Ireland’s preparation was ultra-professional, the bond between the panel mushroomed.
“We’re the best of friends. I couldn’t say a bad word about any of them. The craic and the banter were mental. There were no individuals and we were all in it together.
“We embraced what the backroom staff and management were telling us. You wouldn’t believe how the game has evolved in terms of nutrition, video analysis, tactics and stuff like that,” Larissa emphasised.
Ireland opened their World Cup campaign with a 23-17 victory against the USA in what was a physically demanding contest. But the result that grabbed all the headlines was looming as Ireland shocked defending champions New Zealand in their second group match.
“We had our homework done. We knew everything about them (New Zealand). We had compiled a menu on the different types of attacks we were going to use. It was just a question of going out and playing.
“For us, they were just another team. It’s 80 minutes of rugby and you go out there and try to give a good account of yourself. We believed that we were fitter, faster and stronger than them. It was the same for any team we played against. We were under no pressure,” she explained.
The historic 17-14 victory caused shockwaves in rugby circles and, as a result, threw the competition wide open. It also brought the team firmly under the national and international microscope.
“It (the hype) was crazy but, as a team, we had to move on,” Larissa stated.
Ireland’s next game against Kazakhstan was a special one for Larissa as she was handed a starting berth in the facile 40-5 success.
“It was an unusual game against Kazakhstan in that we didn’t know what to expect. Teams like New Zealand are very structured but we didn’t really know what we were going to get against Kazakhstan. But it was a great experience for me personally,” noted Larissa.
The hype and expectation was cranked up a notch ahead of the World Cup semi-final against England. Things didn’t go according to plan, something Larissa still finds hard to fathom.
“I don’t know what went wrong. It was just one of those things. We were aware of all the hype but it wasn’t the reason we lost the match. We just didn’t show up. It happens in sport sometimes. We were okay for 20 minutes but we didn’t click after that.
“But we picked ourselves up and moved on to the French game. We didn’t want to be remembered for the performance against England. We lost against France but we were happy with the way we played. We went out and gave it everything whereas we just didn’t play against England,” she acknowledged.
Larissa is just thankful that she was part of the experience, which was unprecedented exposure for an Irish women’s team in any sport.
“To have the whole country behind us, it was just mental. We’ve put women’s rugby on the map. There was a great team of people involved. I can see the transition in me as a person, the connections we made and the people you meet along the way are a bonus,” she outlined.
Club rugby will dominate her life for the next few months. The Irish management is due for a reshuffle, something that will drive Larissa to work even harder ahead of the 2015 Six Nations. For now, the memories from the greatest experience of her life are plentiful.
“It’s a bit weird waking up. You feel you should be somewhere doing something. I’ve had a couple of days off but I’m going back to the gym today. I don’t like not doing something. It’s a bit of an addiction but it’s a great environment.
“The legacy from this means everything – getting more girls involved in any sport. If what we’ve achieved encourages one more girl to kick a ball or go for a run, then it will have been worth it,” she concluded.